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This is an excerpt from Meredith Ethington’s The Mother Load: Surviving the Daily Grind Without Losing Your Ever Loving Mind.

As a mom to three kids, I’ve heard it more than once: Put yourself first, and you’ll be a better mom. It’s true, and I know it, but the idea of self-care gets confusing when you are depressed, anxious, overwhelmed, and so on.

It seems the idea of self-care is a popular one. You can browse Pinterest or any website or magazine that targets women, and I guarantee you will find an article on the importance of self-care.

Taking time for yourself and making yourself a priority is always being marketed to women.

It took me a long time as a new mom to realize what self-care was and what it wasn’t. I remember when my son’s fifth birthday party was coming up. I decided I wanted something easy because it was the dead of winter, but I was struggling to come up with easy ideas.

Then I ran across a pancakes and pajamas–themed party. Perfect. I could invite the boys over for pancakes, in their pajamas, and then we would have a dance party in the basement.

Done.

Somewhere in the middle of enjoying my newfound idea of an “easy” birthday party, I lost my sanity. I decided I needed to decorate. Because five-year-old boys clearly care about decorations. I swear to you, I must have been browsing Pinterest, seen varying degrees of this “easy” birthday party, and lost my marbles. Now I know not to trust anything on Pinterest that claims it is easy or stress-free. And how the only true thirty-minute dinner recipe is to order pizza.

I imagined each child getting a perfectly groomed stack of pancakes on a picture-perfect plate with cute toothpick flags stuck in their stack. Why flags? I don’t know.

I began to take cute and colorful washi tape rolls from my crafting supplies and make flags for stacks of pancakes. Some were red and white striped, some blue, green plaid, red with stars.

This was going to be the cutest stack of pancakes that ever existed in the “momosphere.”

I even enlisted my seven-year-old to help make them. But tiny miniature pancake flags didn’t seem like enough without some pom-poms. I was going to thread, string, and hang colorful pom-poms for decoration. Store-bought Paw Patrol decorations are for moms who don’t love their children. I made a cute banner that I spent too much time on.

This party had to be Pinterest-worthy and handmade. When the night before the party rolled around, there I was: an extremely busy mom with three kids under seven years old. And unfinished pom-pom décor.

I had a choice to make. I could either stay up until 2:00 a.m. stabbing myself in the fingers to thread little poofs into a garland before hosting breakfast for a crowd of wild, sweaty boys, or I could take care of me. And put me to bed early.

I left the pom-poms sitting there. Unopened. The kids came at 9:00 a.m., we ate pancakes, and I don’t even remember if I used the washi tape toothpick flags. I don’t recall the boys gushing over their care and craftsmanship, and I also don’t have any pained memories of them, ripe with indignation, refusing to eat their pancakes until they were properly adorned. It’s almost like five-year-olds don’t care about Pinterest-perfect parties (they really don’t) and we just enjoy driving ourselves crazy for no good reason. What I do remember is the boys had a blast. I’m more likely to remember that because I was well-rested enough to deal with their shenanigans.

It taught me a powerful lesson about self-care and motherhood: not being the best at everything you do can be the absolute best form of self-care. I know you have heard that whole thing about not being able to pour from an empty cup. It’s true.

Your kids are not going to care about pom-pom banners anyway. They really don’t care.

Meredith Ethington is an award-winning writer and author of The Mother Load, a book about the journey through motherhood and mental health. She started writing on her popular blog, Perfection Pending and her viral essays have reached millions of struggling parents. She lives in Salt Lake City, UT with her husband, three kids, and muppety dog, Millie. In her loads of spare time, she is studying to become a licensed mental health counselor.

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